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The price of new beginnings

How can you solve the problem of poverty?

My son's forehead creased as he made his assignment for Araling Panlipunan. I wanted to know what my high school freshman thought of his country's problems. He could not make up his mind and decided to do something else before making that assignment. I never got around to asking him what his answers were.

I thought of my son's assignment when I saw TV footage of informal dwellers of Barangay Pag-asa, Quezon City fight the team sent to demolish their homes. Women and children were pictured lying down on EDSA to protest their plight. An old woman was interviewed and she apologized to commuters inconvenienced by the massive traffic jam their actions caused. We're sorry but have no choice, she explained.

Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista was also interviewed. He claimed that syndicates allowed the informal settlers to stay in the area and that they were charging as much as P2,500 a month for bed space. Later, those who agreed to be relocated were pictured in their new homes in Rodriguez (formerly Montalban), Rizal. Their row houses had no electricity yet. A representative from the National Housing Authority promised that electricity would be available by the first week of October. She made no mention of when running water would be available.

I realized that it was the same neighborhood where my cleaning woman was relocated. Formerly a resident of Quezon City, she had lost her home at the height of Typhoon Ondoy. After close to a year of living in a tent, she and some of her neighbors were relocated to Rodriguez, Rizal. While she is relieved of the stress of worrying if the river beside her home will overflow and put her and her family in danger, the move has also brought new problems for her and her neighbors.

"Mga Bisaya, daghan kaayo 'Day," she told me when I asked her who her neighbors were. Her old community had migrants from Bohol and Leyte. Her new community included old neighbors and persons relocated from Navotas, some of whom, she claims, were from Masbate.

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She narrated that most of them chose to keep their old jobs. They had no choice. For workers at the Navotas Fish Port, this means leaving Rodriguez at three in the morning. Everyday. Others leave at five in the morning to make it to their places of employment by eight.

Some of those relocated have been living there for over ten months. Water supply comes from artesian wells located beside the houses. The residents deem the water too muddy to drink and buy filtered water. A generator makes it possible for residents to have light from one bulb from seven in the evening to three in the morning. Getting ready for work by candlelight could be tricky.

Since the transfer was made in the middle of the school year, children could not be accommodated at the public schools near the relocation site. They had no choice but to look for friends and relatives who remained in the old neighborhood and stay there, at least until the school year ends. The school meant for the relocated children is still being constructed.

My cleaning woman tells me that she is busy planting okra, pepper, tomatoes, and other vegetables in the backyard of her new home. I wonder if she feels more hopeful now.

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